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Leon Trotsky

Leon Trotsky

Leon Trotsky (Russian: Лeв Давидович Трóцкий), born Lev Davidovich Bronstein (Russian: Лeв Давидович Бронштéйн) (1879-1940), pronounced (traht'-skee) was a leader with Vladimir Lenin in the Bolshevik (Communist) October Revolution in Russia in 1917. A charismatic orator, systematic organizer and brilliant theorist, Trotsky was primarily an intellectual whose writings greatly influenced leftist movements worldwide. An energetic organizer, he was one of only seven original members at the creation of the Politburo in 1917 and the planning of the successful Petrograd uprising in November 1917. Trotsky also arranged for the Treaty of Brest-Litvosk, founded the Red Army, and played the central role in winning the civil war (1918–20).

Trotsky made many blunders and exaggerations, including losing his nerve when Germany invaded Russia in 1918; taking the credit due the generals for the Red victory in the civil war; claiming to be the father of the New Economic Policy of the 1920s; claiming to be on good terms with Lenin in the 1920s; displaying profound naivety in dealing with Stalin in 1924; and his wishful thinking that Stalinism was on the verge of collapse in the 1930s. But an overly sympathetic view ranks him as the second greatest scapegoat in all of world history.[1]

"Death came early to him," explains his leading biographer, "because he fought for a cause that was more destructive than he ever imagined."[2]


Trotsky was the son of a prosperous and reportedly non-religious Jewish farmer in the Ukraine. Well-educated and rebellious, he became a professional revolutionary as a teenager. He was arrested in 1898 and was later exiled to Siberia, where he joined the Social Democratic party. In 1902 he escaped abroad, and met Lenin.

In 1903, while Lenin headed the Bolsheviks, Trotsky joined the rival Mensheviks. Mensheviks did not believe in trying to ignite a revolution, expecting that it would happen when the people were ready. By contrast, the Bolsheviks believed that the people needed to be led. From 1904 until 1917 Trotsky had a stormy relationship with Lenin, accusing Lenin of wanting to become a dictator. But the two of them resolved their differences in 1917, and after that point Trotsky was totally loyal to Lenin.

Trotsky was the most powerful orator in the Bolshevik party, and due to his numerous spells in jail and his active role in the failed 1905 revolution he was much more famous than Lenin was to ordinary Russians. He was the actual organizer behind the October Revolution, as Lenin was still in exile and thus unable to participate.

Civil War

Trotsky also helped build the Red Army that defeated the White Russian Army in the subsequent Civil War in Russia, despite having no military experience of any kind. He also crushed the Anarchist movement of Nestor Makhno and brutally suppressed the Kronstadt Rebellion. Many massacres were committed under his orders, as even other leftists admit.[3]

Power struggle

Lenin was always primarily a politician; politics absorbed his waking hours. The conflict between Trotsky and Lenin led to the subsequent struggle between Trotsky and Stalin in Lenin's last months. Multiple rivalries within the Bolshevik Party emerged because history did not unfold as predicted by theory; the Communist revolution did not spread into a worldwide spontaneous uprising of the working people. Lenin accused Stalin of Russian chauvinism when he proposed the incorporation of different nationalities into a unitary Soviet state. But Lenin was disabled by a stroke in 1923 before he could remove Stalin, and Stalin proved the master politician.

When Lenin died in 1924, a lengthy power struggle began between Trotsky and Stalin. Trotsky took the view that socialism in the Soviet Union must await a revolution in western Europe and even worldwide. Stalin wanted power immediately and offered a rival ideology, Socialism in one country. To fend off accusations of becoming the new 'Napoleon', he gave up his command of the Red Army.

The struggle for power in the Soviet Union during Lenin's last illness in 1923 was not based merely on a clash of personalities but involved fundamental issues concerning the future political and economic development of the Soviet Union. Trotsky's desire to lessen Party control over the administration while centralizing the economy and giving priority to heavy industry, as well as his doubts about reforms of government proposed by Lenin, made him isolated on the Politburo. Trotsky did not carry out Lenin's wishes toward Stalin and the "Georgians" because he agreed with Stalin's ideas on the nationality question and centralization, but he was outmaneuvered by Stalin's strengthening of the powers of the Secretariat, which contradicted Trotsky's ideas on freeing administration from direct political control.

Trotsky was a quick-witted combatant and ruthless foe; he was an articulate intellectual, but he lacked humanism or normal human qualities such as empathy, respect for the sacred, loyalty to his friends, or indeed, loyalty to anything except his theory of how should happen, but never did. His theory suffered from lack of nuance, and from Trotsky's inability to adjust it to account for the uncertainties and human dimensions of actual history.


Stalin expelled Trotsky from the Bolshevik party in 1927 and exiled him from Russia in 1929. Trotsky's constant goal was to gain control of world Communist leadership and implement more radical programs. To this end, he advocated youth rebellion, feminism, Black Power, guerrilla warfare, free abortions, "free love" and the homosexual agenda (Stalin banned sodomy in 1934). Trotsky formed a loose organization of German followers in 1930 but failed either to defeat or take control of the German Communist Party. Indeed, his supporters nearly everywhere were outmaneuvered and defeated by the Soviet Communists, and lingered in numerous countries as a far-Left party with little influence, with the exception of Sri Lanka where the Trotskyite "Lanka Sama Samaja Party" dominated the Marxist left for decades, and Vietnam where the Trotskyites were very popular in the Saigon area in the 1930s and 1940s until they were massacred by the Stalinites under Ho Chi Minh. Intellectuals who joined Trotsky's movement were put off by Trotsky's dogmatism and his intolerance of the least deviation from his ideas.

After getting kicked out of Turkey and France, Trotsky settled in Mexico in 1937, where he was welcomed by the atheistic, anti-American government of Lazaro Cardenas. While in Mexico, Trotsky continued to write angry essays about the Soviet Government, alleging that it had betrayed the revolution. The Soviets responded by organizing several assassination attempts. The first attempt, on May 24, 1940, was a home invasion by 30 Communists armed with guns and bombs, but they somehow failed to kill Trotsky and his wife. Then on August 20, 1940 Spanish Communist Ramón Mercader, acting on orders from Stalin, successfully murdered Trotsky in his Mexico City home, using an ice axe while his back was turned.

During his time in Mexico Trotsky was in a sexual relationship with Frida Kahlo,[3] even though he was not married to her at the time.

Permanent revolution

Trotsky's most influential idea was the notion of permanent revolution. Drawing on the experiences of the 1905 Russian Revolution, Trotsky maintained that revolution would spread worldwide after the international proletariat's aid to the Russian workers, who in turn would "export" the revolution abroad. By contrast Stalin rejected Trotsky's theory and presented his own thesis on socialism in one country (Russia) in 1926. Trotsky asserted that the unification of developed and backward countries in the worldwide operations of capitalism created a combination of separate and uneven stages of development in backward countries like Russia, permitting the Russian proletariat the capability of carrying out a revolution but at the same time requiring the permanent extension of revolution in time and space until the extinction of class distinctions. A similar ideology regarding revolution would be adhered by Sturmabteilung leader Ernst Röhm.[4]

American influence

American Trotskyists were political activists in the 1930s who follows the teachings of Trotsky and opposed Stalin's version. All of them broke with Trotsky, and many became conservatives, such as Max Eastman, James Burnham and Seymour Martin Lipset.

Paleoconservatives, who dislike Neoconservatism intensely, have argued that it emerged from Trotskyist theories, especially the notion of permanent revolution. There are four fundamental flaws in the paleoconservatives' attack: most of the neoconservatives were never Trotskyists; none of them ever subscribed to the right-wing Socialism of Max Shachtman; the assertion that neoconservatives subscribe to "inverted Trotskyism" is misleading; and neoconservatives advocate democratic globalism, not permanent revolution.[5]


Western commentators on Trotsky generally fall into four categories, aside from orthodox Trotskyists, who have generally been concerned with preserving his ideas rather than developing them. First, the pro-Soviets oppose him and his ideas, especially on the issue of socialism in one country. The second group, described as sympathetic critics, has examined Trotsky's stands and while generally in agreement, has commonly found his views mistaken on three points in particular: His conversion to Leninism, his failure to move against Stalin in 1923, and his characterization of Stalinism as a workers' state. A third group of commentators has viewed Trotsky skeptically, an unlikely alternative to Stalin. The realist group, in contrast, faults Trotsky for failure to realize the true nature of events after 1917. After glasnost in the 1980s Trotsky was rehabilitated in Russia as an important leader and some of his writings have been published.[6]


One of Trotsky's famous quotes (which also sums up the Atheism in the Communist Movement) was : "Religions are illogical primitive ignorance. There is nothing as ridiculous and tragic as a religious government." However, he was ethnically a Ukrainian-Jew. Owing to this, the chief rabbi of Russia at the time, Jacob Maze, attempted to speak on behalf of the Russian Jews to Trotsky to use his influence in the Red Army to stop the pogroms against the Jews conducted by Lenin. Trotsky, as usual, told him he considered himself a Communist revolutionary and didn't even consider himself even remotely Jewish, causing Maze to reply with "Trotsky makes the revolutions, and the Bronsteins pay the bills.", referring to Trotsky's birth name Lev Bronstein.


  • You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.[7]

See also

Further reading

  • Alexander, Robert J. International Trotskyism, 1929-1985: A Documented Analysis of the Movement (1991), 1128pp online edition
  • Brotherstone, Terry, et al. eds. The Trotsky Reappraisal (1992) online edition, 19 short essays by scholars
  • Daniels, Robert V. Trotsky, Stalin and Socialism. (1991). 208 pp.
  • Deutscher, Isaac. Trotsky (3v, 1954–63), by a far-left admirer of Trotsky
  • Garza, Hedda. Leon Trotsky (1986) short survey
  • Kolakowski, Leszek. Main Current of Marxism (1978), 3:183-219, on Trotsky in 1930s
  • Molyneux, John. Leon Trotsky's Theory of Revolution. (1981). 238 pp.
  • Pomper, Philip. Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin: The Intelligentsia and Power. (1990). 446 pp.
  • Renton, Dave. Trotsky (2004) excerpt and text search
  • Service, Robert. Trotsky: A Biography (2009), 600pp; by a leading historian; the best biography
  • Thatcher, Ian D. Trotsky (2002) excerpt and text search; also full text online
  • Volkogonov, Dmitri. Trotsky: The Eternal Revolutionary. (1996). 560 pp. excerpt and text search, very hostile

Primary sources


  2. Service (2009)
  3. 3.0 3.1 Clive James, "Leon Trotsky: He was a mass murderer, not the true champion of the working class.", Slate, April 2, 2007
  4. Shirer, William L. Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. "The Nazification of Germany: 1933-34; 'No Second Revolution'"
    "A tremendous victory has been won. But not an absolute victory! The SA and the SS will not tolerate the German revolution going to sleep and being betrayed at the half-way stage by non-combatants. Not for the sake of the SA and SS but for Germany's sake. For the SA is the last armed force of the nation, the last defense against communism. If the German revolution is wrecked by the reactionary opposition, incompetence, or laziness, the German people will fall into despair and will be an easy prey for the bloodstained frenzy coming from the depths of Asia. If these bourgeois simpletons think that the national revolution has already lasted too long, for once we agree with them. It is in fact high time the national revolution stopped and became the National Socialist one. Whether they like it or not, we will continue our struggle - if they understand at last what it is about - with them; if they are unwilling - without them; and if necessary - against them."[1]
  5. William F. King, "Neoconservatives and 'Trotskyism'" American Communist History 2004 3(2): 247-266 online at EBSCO
  6. Michael Cox, "Trotsky and his Interpreters; Or, Will the Real Leon Trotsky Please Stand Up?" Russian Review 1992 51(1): 84-102.

External links